This article was written yesterday before The Sun published a topless model this morning whilst they thanked media outlets for their speculation about Page 3 being dropped. Thankfully, this move only reinforces my understanding of the PR situation, as outlined below!
The media furore about The Sun dropping Page 3 from their newspaper has been hailed by many No More Page 3 campaigners as a victory for feminism. They were joined by influential voices, including Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, and News Statesman contributing editor Laurie Penny. However, the truth behind News UK’s decision may not be down to No More Page 3’s campaigners.
And read this post knowing that I’m personally a supporter of their campaign (read this blog post from last year) and the agency I work for invited the campaign to speak at our Social Media Week London event.
The No More Page 3 campaign has led an active social media campaign that is organised by a dozen or so passionate campaigners through social media. Their Twitter profile is surrounded by thousands of supporters who believe Page 3 must go. When counter arguments are proposed, supporters are quick to provide rebuttal (and surround any trolls).
- Tactically, their campaign is brilliant.
- Strategically, I think it needs more work.
This has been highlighted by the current decision by News UK. Great, Page 3 has now been dropped from The Sun, but I imagine many Page 3 supporters may feel like their job is left unfinished. Because in reality, Page 3 still exists, and No More Page 3 never successfully positioned itself as a single-issue campaign.
This lack of strategic focus is the main reason why No More Page 3 supporters have just been lured into a gigantic PR bear trap. Yes. I really think The Sun has just thrown a PR curve ball.
As recently published in the Financial Times, “Page 3 move reveals Sun’s online challenge” (£),
“Only 225,000 people have a digital subscription to The Sun — compared with the paper’s daily print circulation of 1.9m. As audiences move online, The Sun is gaining fewer than two digital subscribers for every three print copies lost.”
This is a big problem for The Sun. Business Insider claims the newspaper is still going through a transitional period and has shed visitors since going behind a paywall last year. In this transitional period, The Sun has a major weapon, Page 3 (A.K.A. ‘soft porn’ in my opinion…).
The newspapers may be saying that The Sun has ‘dropped’ Page 3, but in reality it has just moved online. Why? So the newspaper can increase their digital subscribers. This frames Rupert Murdoch’s frequently referenced tweet about Page 3 in a rather different light (there were other tweets too).
It was an orchestrated media effort designed to provide a tangible timeline of The Sun dropping Page 3 from the newspaper, suggesting that the feature was dated. This would then generate speculation, discussion and eventually the claim of victory from the No More Page 3 campaign. The elephant in the room is that Page 3 is far from dead, thriving as part of their online newspaper (which is where opportunity for business growth lies anyway). Every comment about Page 3 being dropped from the newspaper simply acts as a reminder that the feature is now only available online.
The evidence for this will be the next time The Sun’s digital subscribers are counted. I’m willing to bet that this unique selling point for the newspaper’s digital subscription may be enough to sway some readers away from paper.
Still, despite my understanding of the media situation, I’m delighted Page 3 girls will need to wear clothes in the newspaper. As argued in the past, my main concern with the feature was that it isn’t news; porn should not be in a family focused newspaper. From a business perspective, Page 3 is wrongly positioned in this day and age to even exist in print.
However, my views aren’t nearly as strong as some supporters, who see Page 3 as a small part of a much wider feminist debate.
If I had some advice for No More Page 3 it would be this:
- Understand whether you are a single-issue campaign or if you’re willing to take part in the wider debate about feminism. If you are single-issue, what is this issue? Is it really No More Page 3? Is it to remove Page 3 from the print newspaper? Is it to campaign against glamour modelling? Your messaging in the media is not clear.
- Stop thinking about tactics. Get a strategic focus. Thousands of Twitter followers look good but will it drive real change? Think about who makes the decisions about Page 3. Would what influence those people? In my experience subtle campaigns frequently drive bigger results than EXPLOSIVE CONSUMER BOLLOCKS.
- Don’t let The Sun play you, because you are being played right now. The newspaper is using your campaign to drive their digital subscribers. The burn of the media light is on you. What are you going to say that people will clearly remember?